December 31, 2010

A 2010 send-off

Set the clocks and pop the corks.
Fill the living room with cheer.
Get the plates and plastic forks--
Tonight we kill another year.

A year of laughter, tears, and love,
A year of fortune and bad luck.
A year of "none of the above"--
A year of cliches run amok.

A year of ninety thousand words,
Of beer and rocks and scouts and games.
Of faith and soccer, boats and birds,
Of travel, trips, new cats, and names.

Twenty years of wedded bliss!
New business cards, new iPad too.
A birthday party for my sis,
And GIMAH and some bad haiku.

We bid farewell to twenty-ten
with champagne kisses and a song.
And now let's do it all again.
(Unless I've got my dates all wrong.)

December 29, 2010

haiku wednesday - at least once (more) in 2010, by god

This week's words are buckle,  evade, wedge.

New year's resolution:  Do 3WW more times in 2011 than in 2010.  Shouldn't be hard.  This is only my second one all year.

concrete wedge plummets
foundations crack, posts buckle
no thing evades time

evade temptation
courage and resolve buckle
this new wedge splits us

hop in the car, son
wedge in close and buckle up
there's cops to evade

December 27, 2010

I don't think "Asteroids" had the same effects

Our Wii is on the fritz.  I think the laser is off track or something.  At first, it caused minor withdrawal symptoms in #1 Son, but he soon got over it and found other ways to occupy himself (notably his iPod Touch).

Apparently, according to science, this is also destroying his ability to drive in fog.  He's only 14 and doesn't drive yet, but don't let that fact cloud the issue at hand.

The NPR article linked above references science done by researchers that, quite frankly, could have come to me first and saved some of their grant money for a truly kick-ass publication party.  This research shows that shoot-em-up action video games, like the Call of Duty series that my boys and I enjoy, enhance certain skills such as focus, multitasking, and the ability to take in visual data and process it quickly.  The end of my blog post linked above theorizes exactly what this science shows.

Which of course highlights the subtext of this post:  I am a genius.

Predictably, however, NPR readers went ape shit at the suggestion that action video games could have any effect on society other than to create the next crop of war-mongering misogynistic philandering neanderthals--i.e. Republican Congressmen.  (But let's be honest, without war-mongering misogynistic philandering neanderthals, who would protect The People from gay marriage?)

Be that as it may, I believe this research, and I've always thought that video games are not entirely useless.  I can see these skills in my boys.  There may be other ways to enhance these skills (football, hockey, soccer, and basketball come to mind), but I think today's child needs both physical activity and video games.  Plus books, theater, and social groups.

Video games should rarely be taken as more than a special kind of toy, but people also need to realize that toys build skills, and these toys build a lot more skills than the ability to grow up into a successful and productive psychopath.

December 22, 2010

workers below, and the rails are h-o-t HOT.

Yet More Rules Of The Blog

We just spent four days in the desert.  Las Vegas and environs, in particular.  In my life I've spent many days in Las Vegas.  I've seen four days in a row where the temperature was 115 degrees or more.  But I've never seen four days in a row of heavy rains.  Before this trip, that is.

With that in mind, watch your hands and please be aware of the workers.

That is all.

PS:  Prize to the first person to identify the location of this particular sign.  Must be present to win.  Must be at least 18 years of age and legally able to cross state lines to collect prize.

December 20, 2010

Things I Learned in 2010

Because Erica did it and I thought it was an interesting idea, I thought I'd do it, too, in my own special way.  In the interest of hoping some of you don't make the same mistakes I did, here are some things I learned in 2010, in no particular order or level of quality:

  1. It's easier than you think to steal a catalytic converter from a Toyota 4Runner.
  2. It is possible to overcome time zone changes with coffee and Diet Coke, but not for three different time zones in five days.
  3. Californians lose 30 points of IQ when they have a ballot put in their hands.
  4. Emails that have the subject line "Quick question" always contain a question that takes 30 seconds to read but seventeen painful hours to answer.
  5. Sedona is insanely beautiful, and helicopter rides are expensive fun.
  6. Rock climbing is really fun and really, really hard your first time doing it.  Oh, and it's 90% legs and 10% everything else.
  7. Using an iPad and wireless keyboard not only gets bigger word count, but it also gets you noticed by strangers at Peet's.
  8. Nederland (CO) is a place I would really like to visit again.
  9. Some high school classmates don't change at all in 25 years, and others are unrecognizable.  Sometimes that's good, and sometimes... not so much.
  10. If you carry a FREE HUGS sign at an amusement park, most people will aggressively ignore you.
  11. If you hug the hottie carrying the FREE HUGS sign at the amusement park, your momentary embarrassment will be far outweighed by the blissful karma you gain.
  12. Des Moines, unexpectedly, is not a place that makes me think I must escape immediately.
  13. Being a Senior Vice President is pretty cool.
  14. Tornado warnings may usually pass without incident, but one is enough for me, thanks.
  15. It is possible to be #1 in something and still not win the "best of" award.
I learned a lot more stuff, but mostly I learned to just take it easy, man.  That is to say, abide.

December 17, 2010

there will be no more levity on this trip!

When I was in my early teens, I went backpacking with my brother and my father.  Near the trailhead, we passed what appeared to be a group of inner city kids, about my age, on a day hike with a couple of adult leaders.  I don't know what happened to cause such anger in the leader less than a half mile from the parking lot, but as we passed them he turned, halted the line of kids, and yelled at them, "That's IT.  There will be no more levity on this trip!"

Perhaps he was using the word levity in a way I was not used to.  Or perhaps he was just a meanie.

In any case, I was reminded of that story when I read this post at the US Chamber's blog, "The ChamberPost," today.  What struck me most about this, apart from the fact that The ChamberPost looks unfortunately like The ChamberPot at a quick glance, was just how colossally selfish, stupid, and reactionary young parents are these days.

Earlier this week, a parent called the cops on a preschool because they duct-taped his little brat's sleeves together so he wouldn't hurt a teacher or other students.  I guess the father never thought to actually discipline his kid for being a little shit all day.  A better lesson for his boy would be to drop the weight of law enforcement on the teachers and staff of the preschool.  Classy.  (Then again, you know what they say about the proximity relationship between fallen apples and their trees.)

Then on Wednesday we learned about a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of some parents who want to force McDonald's to stop making their children whine.  Instead of working on changing their children's bratty behavior, these parents chose to put their efforts into changing the behavior of one of the world's largest companies.  Again, apples and trees.  One wonders if the first time these parents will hear the word "no" will be when the judge kicks them out of the courtroom, as I hope he or she will.

And now this.  Swing sets removed from playgrounds at the mere threat of a lawsuit.  This parent apparently thinks it's easier to hire a lawyer than to apply a band-aid.  The real tragedy is that this is not an isolated case.  Liability risk is causing some schools to be built without playgrounds at all.

This is simply astonishing to me, and a tragedy of epic proportions.  No, I'm not kidding.  This lawsuit culture we've built, this culture of blaming someone else for everything and then demanding through courts and police that they be punished or pay, is hurtful to the future of our society.  There is no freedom when you can be hit with a lawsuit after being hit head-on.  There is no democracy when a man with a lawyer can hold the levity of hundreds of kids hostage.

These lawsuits illuminate the disgusting aspect of our culture that encourages people to blame others for everything, including their own shortcomings.

December 16, 2010

Religion or cross words?

Wait, sorry, that was supposed to be crossword, not cross words.  Religion is already full of cross words.  Just listen to any zealot, and a lot of the words they use will be cross.

But no, I'm talking about this new thing called Neurotheology.  NPR did a story on it, so it must be either very leftist or... um, socialist, right?  Anyway, it's going to be more honest and informative than FOX news will be, that's for sure.  Right?

Well, maybe.  See, the Neurotheology article reports that a scientist did brain scans of religious people before and after eight weeks of meditation, just 12 minutes a day.  What this showed was pretty interesting and significant, and actionable--with this simple, non-intrusive technique, people can actually get their brains to work better and improve their memory.  This was shown in tests.

The conclusion, however, is that somehow the spiritual nature of the activity is the source of the improvement in brain function.  That being religious and meditating is what causes it.  Not just the meditating sans the religious aspect.

But waaayy back in January, 2006, TIME magazine ran an article about ways to stave off Alzheimer's.  And I quote:

Several studies have found that folks who regularly engage in mentally challenging activities—like reading, doing crossword puzzles or playing chess—seem less likely to develop dementia later in life.

Hmm.  Sounds maybe like... 12 minutes a day of heightened concentration exercises leading to improved memory and brain function.

Kind of like 20 minutes of exercise a day leads to better muscle tone and improved body function.

Not really that surprising or revolutionary, to be honest.  And really, really hard to tie to spirituality.

Which actually appears to be what the scientist who did the neurotheology study concludes.  Smart man, that.  He says, "One could try to conclude one way or the other that maybe it’s the biology or maybe God's really in the room, but the scan itself doesn't really show that."

In other words, "Hey guys, I've got some results, but in order to understand them we'll need a whole pile of more research money.  All of you who want to prove that there's a higher power, put your money in this bucket on the right.  All of you who want to disprove the existence of God, put your money in this bucket on the left."

Genius, this guy.  I bet he could totally beat my time at the NYT crossword puzzle.  (Around 11 minutes for Wednesday's puzzle this week.  But it was late.)

Unless he starts watching FOX news regularly, in which case he may end up like the other couple million zombies who still think Obama was born in a foreign country.

December 15, 2010

That CRAP that you get at McDonald's

This past election season, our community was thrown into a tizzy because McDonald's wants to put a new restaurant in our area... with a drive through window.  You can imagine the horror that ensued.  Personally, I think it would be kinda convenient.  But a good friend of mine, a lawyer, led the charge against this McDonald's restaurant insertion.  For legitimate reasons.  I've got no beef with him.

But that's not what I wanted to write about.  I wanted to write about a lawsuit filed against said McFood store.  Essentially, the class action lawsuit would force McDonald's to stop advertising toys in their Happy Meals.  They don't want McDonald's to stop including the toys, or stop selling Happy Meals.  And they're not asking for damages.  They just want them to stop advertising that toys come in Happy Meals.

Why?  I quote:

Children nonetheless influence the purchasing decisions of their parents.
McDonald’s exploits that influence, by bombarding children with advertisements for
Happy Meals with toys, knowing that it will result in kids nagging parents to purchase
nutritionally poor Happy Meals for their children.

Oh the horror!  Oh the humanity!

OK, my reactions:
  • Pretty much all children whine when they want something.
  • Parents need to grow a spine and say "no" once in a while.
  • It's pretty stupid to expect McDonald's to have your best interests at heart.  They sell fatty, salty, sugary comfort food and always have.
I do think McDonald's should be forced to do something about their Happy Meals, though.  They need to reduce the excessive packaging they use, and they need to include only toys that actually have a chance of being used at least once instead of being torn open, being recognized as utterly useless, stupid-looking, licensed landfill fodder, and being thrown in the trash on the way out of the store.

This is quite possibly the most ridiculous lawsuit I've seen.  It really shows American "parents" to be the helpless children they are.  I think we should make a law that says if you're not mature enough to say "no" to a kid when the kid whines about a Happy Meal, you're not mature enough to have children.

December 13, 2010

Reindeer Names

I do enjoy a lot of things about Christmas.  Mostly the old-timey songs like Rudolph and Let It Snow and White Christmas.  And the famous poem, Twas the Night Before Christmas.  I used to read that to the children when they were little.  Under protest, of course, but tradition is tradition, no matter how disagreeable.

Just now, though, I was thinking about Santa's eight named reindeer.  Rudolph, I thought, doesn't really count.  He's like the Justin Bieber of reindeer--a manufactured celebrity with a freak physical condition (nose vs hair) and limited talent, loved mostly by naive children.

No, I got to thinking about the eight backup singers and began wondering about their names.  The names apparently came originally from the aforementioned poem, written in 1807.  I have come to the conclusion, after careful study and a few glasses of red wine, that this poem--and the corresponding song about Rudolph--needs to be banned.  They are clearly a celebration of drug gang culture.

First, we've got Blitzen and Donner, who were originally named Blixem and Dunder meaning lightning and thunder.  These are violent names.  Gunfire names.  And of course, Santa's "ho ho ho":  Vixen, Cupid, and Dancer (being in the Arctic, that would be Pole Dancer of course).  Dasher and Comet are the bag men, obviously.

Still working on Prancer.  It's either the gang's pimp or Santa's gay little brother.  Either way, totally unwholesome for Real America's children.  I am certain Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck would agree with me on this one.

So the next time your child breaks into a raucous chorus of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," smack him and lock him in his room.  We should not be celebrating corrupt drunk cops that enable drug gangs.  For that's clearly what the song is about:  Poor Rudy's kept out of the gang.  So he becomes a cop, but he's a lush (thus the red nose).  One day Santa has a problem--all his goods have been seized, and he needs some help.  Here comes Rudy to save the day and make sure all the drugs get out to the streets, keeping Santa in business and finally being let into the gang.

It's sick, really.

December 6, 2010

Because we should never forget

A big thank-you to Anonymous, commenting on my previous post about affirmative action.

Today is not Memorial Day.  It is not Veterans Day or any of the other holidays set aside for remembering those who have spent part of their lives defending my country, my freedoms, and my safety.  But it's a pretty good day to do that anyway.

Faces of the Fallen

Reported at the above site are these totals to date:

Year Iraq Afghanistan
2001 0 12
2002 0 49
2003 486 48
2004 849 52
2005 846 99
2006 822 98
2007 904 117
2008 314 155
2009 149 317
2010 59 469

Draw your own conclusions about the efforts abroad.  Personally, I still say going to war in Iraq was one of the most foolish US foreign policy blunders of all time.  Had the US focused 100% of its will on bin Laden and the Taliban and not gotten seduced into the idea of rebuilding Iraq in our image, things likely would be very, very different today.

December 3, 2010

the body heals itself, usually

The human body generally heals itself.  Get a scrape, new skin grows.  Catch a virus, your immune system deals with it. Twist your ankle, it'll get better.

Society also tends to "heal" itself--this belief is the foundation of capitalism and democracy.  Bad policies in place?  The electorate will throw the bums out.  Bad economy?  Investors will buy low, and the economy will grow again.  Generally, I think we can see over time that this is, at least at a superficial level, true.

But suppose you got a huge gash on your leg, long and deep.  Without at least some first aid and maybe stitches, the wound will not heal itself.  You may even bleed to death.

Does society suffer the same kinds of wounds?  Are there gashes so deep and big that they can't possibly be healed by society's natural ability to adjust?

Yes, there are.

In 1998, California voters made Affirmative Action illegal for the University of California.  Since then, UC Berkeley has gotten far less diverse.  The university's freshman class is only 3.4% black and about 12% Hispanic.  There are nearly ten whites for every African-American.  There are 13 Asians for every African-American.

In a state (California) where there is no racial majority (every ethnicity is less than 50% of the population), this is a tragedy.  While I hope that one day we will achieve a "colorblind society," which was the chief selling point of Prop 209, today we have a huge wound in our society that needs emergency help.  This is one rift that is not going to heal itself.  Eliminating Affirmative Action in the hope that it will create a colorblind society is much like eliminating medical care in the hope that it will create a disease-free world.  It is backwards and destructive.

If UC Berkeley had been this racially lopsided when I went there in the 80s, I would have gotten a much less valuable education.  This is a real shame.

November 18, 2010

a blog service announcement

Although this is yet another rule of the blog (YAROB), it is for your own safety, after all.  Be careful out there.

November 15, 2010

digital overload? what digital overload?

Using social media is a big topic at work these days.  Some studies show it to be a productivity killer in the workplace, and most companies have some policy to govern usage of blogs, Facebook, YouTube, etc.  Theories abound about how social media is creating information overload, how it's connecting us in more meaningless ways while ruining our "real" relationships, or how it is, you know, leading to world peace or something.

This particular article, about how teens and youth really don't suffer from digital overload like us old fogeys of the pre-internet generation do, caught my attention.

As parents, Maria and I try to limit our kids' screen time to something that seems reasonable to us.  We have a tremendous amount of screen resource in our house--TV, Wii, desktop computer, laptop computer, cell phones, iTouch--and some of that gets used for homework, or creative activity that is really beyond just play.  Our kids fight us at every turn.  Ethan whines and has tantrums when we tell him to turn off the iTouch or the Wii.  Sam sneaks into our home office to tune into "The Office" on Netflix watch-it-now, even if we've told him he's not allowed to.

The article linked above highlights something that's been scratching the back of my mind for some time, though:  what is reasonable for adults might not be reasonable for kids.

When I was little, I was very active--rode my bike miles almost every day, ran around the yard a lot, shot the neighbor's chickens in the butt with my BB gun, blew up plastic models with fire crackers, that kind of thing.  Normal boy stuff.  But I also watched three to four hours of television, on average, every single day.  Did my brain rot?  Maybe.  Who knows how smart or successful I'd have been if I wasn't watching Kung Fu Theater or Spaghetti Western Week or Godzilla destroying Tokyo (again) on the 4 O'Clock Movie?

Certainly my generation has a digital affinity lacking in our parents.  We all know stories of "grandma on facebook," but for the most part those stories are extremely rare when you compare to the total population of grandmas.  But facebook is heavily used by the 40-something generation, as is email.  But 40-somethings don't text that much on average, while kids text all the time.

When I was in 7th grade, my dad gave me an Apple ][+ computer for Christmas.  When I was a freshman in high school, IBM came out  with their PC.  Home computers did not exist prior to this.  The first Mac was not introduced until 1984, at which time the TRS-80 and Timex Sinclair were still popular alternatives.  At this time, my dad showed me how to use his Telex machine at work.  Electric typewriters were still state of the art, especially the high end ones with the erasing ribbon so you could backspace over mistakes.

Part of me wonders if I might actually be doing my son a disservice by limiting his screen time.  When the rest of the children around him are learning how to live in the new world of digital and information overload, should we really be slowing him down just because we adults don't get it, can't handle it?  If he gets enough physical activity and does well in school (straight A's on his last report card), should we just let him calibrate himself and develop the skills he'll need as an adult when technology and information continue their irresistible march to ubiquity?

A good example is Call of Duty:  Black Ops, a game just released and which we picked up for the Wii last Friday.  At any given moment during game play, there are at least four things happening on the screen at once. There's a running ticker of events, a map and radar in the corner, a scoreboard and timer, enemies moving around on and off screen, helicopters arriving, etc.  You can even chat with other players by voice in online play. While I can only keep two or three of these things in my attention at any given time, the boys seem to have no problem seeing and responding to everything.  This seems like an ability that should be developed rather than retarded.

How do you regulate or encourage your children's participation in the world of digital overload?   If you have no children and therefore have all the answers, how would you approach this?

November 6, 2010

Yet more rules of the blog

With the recent election results and a new conservative mandate, we are experiencing more restrictions and rules on behavior than ever.  Please observe the new rule added to the other rules of the blog.

October 20, 2010

more rules of the blog

The original rules can be found here.  New rules have been put into place to supplement the original rules.  Please observe them.  Thank you.

-- the management

Be careful when naming your union

Last night I saw the movie Waiting for "Superman."  It is a good movie, and if you can see it at a screening with a live discussion panel afterwards, you should.  One of the speakers last night was an executive from a local teachers union.  Frankly, he said little to change my mind about teachers unions being a main cause of the downfall of our public schools.  In fact, his attitude, from the words to his tone of voice, was terribly defensive.  He preferred to declare the film a pack of lies rather than talk about education.

Anyway, I guess that put education in the back of my mind all day today.  So when I ran across a "child-killer" character named "Medea" in this blog post about novels, I paused.  I googled it and found the wikipedia entry for Medea, which indicates that indeed, in the original myths, she murdered children.

But I'd heard that name before.  Where had I heard it before?

Oh, I know!  It wasn't the name Medea, it was the acronym MDEA, which was pronounced Medea.

Mount Diablo Educators Association... our local teachers union.  (Not the same union represented by the gentleman noted above.)

I'm not saying that teachers unions are made up of child killers.  I'm just wondering why the leaders of teachers unions have never denied that they're made up of child killers.  Isn't that kind of strange?

August 21, 2010

is it possible to look MORE bald with a goofy helmet?

(Apologies to my facebook friends, who may already have seen the photos I posted there.)

Our last full day in Bend, Sam and I went off with dear friend and wonderful hostess Tiffany and her son to climb a rock.  Of the four of us, I was the only one without any time in a climbing harness.  Sam had completed his Climbing merit badge at boy scout camp.  Suffice to say, I was excited and nervous.

We set off for Smith Rock, about 40 minutes north of Bend, Oregon.  This is a gorgeous river gorge and huge upthrust of stone in the middle of the high desert of east-central Oregon.  From the outside, it merely looks like a setting for one of those old Western movies where everyone dies of dehydration.  Then you get up on top and into the gorge, and my god it's beautiful and dramatic.

From the parking lot, hiking off into Smith Rock State Park.

From a switchback along the trail into the park.  The river gorge is simply spectacular.

This was taken from the base of our climb, across the river.

We hiked in about a half mile.  It starts with switchbacks to descend into the gorge valley, then a pleasant hike along the river and an ascent up various steps to the base of the route our guide had picked out.  Did I mention our guide?  Aaron, from Chockstone Climbing Guides, was our mentor and guide for the day. He'd picked out two routes for us, spanning 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.  The first, Cinnamon Slab, is a 5.6 climb. The second, Ginger Snap, is a 5.8.  I had some idea of what this meant because Big Bro had explained this to me the week before.  5.6 sounded OK but tough.  5.8... we would see.

Long story short:  Climbing was fun but much, much harder than it looks from the ground.  The Cinnamon Slab climb looks like an easy jaunt up a sloped surface, but when you're fifty feet off the ground and have a 14 inch wide surface you're clinging to at a 75 degree pitch with no footholds, it takes a little focus to keep your cool.  On top of it all, you're wearing this really goofy helmet that, you're thinking at the moment, will only serve to keep your scalp from getting lacerated as every bone in your body breaks as you bounce down the rocks to the bottom.

But then you remember you're on belay, and if the person on the ground likes you and your guide has properly anchored the rope at the top of the climb, you're pretty safe.  So you carry on to the top, sweating like a cold beer on the tar in a Las Vegas parking lot in August.

Here are some photos from the Cinnamon Slab (5.6) portion of our day.

Aaron, our guide, setting up the route.  Relax, ladies.  He's married.

Sam belaying, with Aaron as backup.

Sam nearing the top of Cinnamon Slab.  The point he's climbing in this shot has a surface only about a foot wide.  There are holds on the outside of the rock, too, but I found those not as tempting as maybe they should be.

Me at the bottom of Cinnamon Slab, taking my first steps up any climbing route ever.  I look pretty manly in this, don't I?  Except for the dorky helmet, of course.

Me about halfway up Cinnamon Slab.  Here it's about two feet wide, maybe a little more.

When we had just all finished on Cinnamon Slab, a group of 7,000 experienced climbers arrived and started loitering about six feet away from us.  OK, maybe it was more like 12 people in climbing gear, and I don't know how experienced they were.  The way they hovered, though, it appeared they intended to climb the routes we'd set up already.

No matter what they were there for, I was certain of one thing:  I was not excited to have an audience.  I knew I would make a total fool of myself.  43 year old doofus in a goofy helmet slipping off the rock and ending up dangling upside down from one foot caught in a tangled mess of rope.  I was sure that was my future:  a future filled with laughter from below and blood rushing to my head.

I did go up the Ginger Snap route.  It starts with a little scrambling up some boulders until you get to the flat part.  I stood on that last ledge for maybe five minutes trying to figure out how the hell I was going to go up even one more inch.  I sortied and retreated a number of times, frequently thinking I had made it as far as I could for my first day.  But Tiffany, the evil slave driving torture dragon lady, "urged" me on from below.  And up I went.  And damn, was it HARD.

Tiffany used a zoom for this one.  You can see my right foot is on a solid ledge, but tell me where the hell I'm going to put it next when I hoist up onto my left foot?

Another zoomed shot, as I step up off that ledge on my way to the top.

Sam struggled a little with this route, too, but he made it all the way.  You can get a sense of the route here.  Sam is roped in, by the way--it's just hard to see the rope in this shot.

After we were all done, we headed off to the Terrabonne Depot for cold beers and dinner.  Highly recommended after an exertion like climbing or a long hike.  The black ale was outstanding and the service very friendly.

It's funny how, that day, I thought I enjoyed climbing but never really felt a need to do it again.  As I get farther from the event, though, I begin to think about how I'd love to go out and challenge myself again.  I learned a lot on Ginger Snap as I found or missed footholds, held my body close to the rock, used one or two fingers for balance as I stepped up.  Clearly this won't be a lifestyle sport for me, but I would not be surprised to find myself on another wall sometime in the future.

Especially since Sam seems to love it so dearly.

August 18, 2010

Things that take six years

According to a Google search, it takes six years to

Google the phrase "six years," and you see a lot of stories about sports teams, the Iraq war, and felony convictions.  Apart from the conviction stories, which seem to have a lot to do with fraud, murder, and child pornography, mainly the stories focus on things that are decidedly still in progress.

As in, "after six years of war, Iraq still unsettled."  And, "after six years of war, bin Laden still at large."  And, "after six years, eleven out of nine Americans still don't understand fractions."  And, "after six years, Alistair Cook still dead."  (Remarkable, isn't it?  I thought he'd died in the 70s.)

You'd think they might have had the courtesy to have one that said, "after six years, Corner Kick blog still struggling to find itself, not unlike the Buddha who spent six years starving before realizing you can't get enlightened on an empty stomach."  Or maybe, "after six years, Corner Kick blog still unengaging, not unlike Hayden Christensen and that chick he was engaged to but just broke up with."

So it is that I come to six years of blogging, with little to show for it beyond a couple of web awards and a bunch of really awesome totally cool writer and blogger buddies.  Thanks to those of you who stick with me.

I've no idea why you do it.

Even Buddha's friends left him after six years of malnourishment and self denial.

August 15, 2010

caves, rivers, and obsidian

Less than 24 hours after a great weekend camping with friends at Lake Sonoma, we packed up the car and drove 500 miles north to Bend, Oregon, to visit dear friends we see only once in a while but who are definitely of the "friends for a lifetime" variety.

A word of warning to those attempting this trip:   You may be tempted to stop a the Taco Shop in Redding when you gas up.  But you'd be better off going across the street to Del Taco or around the corner to Taco Bell.  Remember the movie "Coming to America" with Eddie Murphy?  How his future father-in-law runs a restaurant called "MacDougall's" or something like that, and he literally stole the McDonald's handbook?  Yeah, this place was essentially that place, only a white guy stole the Taco Bell handbook.  It passed as sustenance.  That's about the highest praise I can offer.

We rolled into Bend in the early evening.  I love Bend.  I could move here and not look back.  The Deschutes River is beautiful, and you can see Mount Bachelor and the other peaks from most of the town.  The downtown is charming, with a ton of art and coffee shops without the self-righteous elitism of some outdoorsy liberal granola type places.  It feels welcoming, even if it lacks much diversity.  Neighborhoods near downtown or west of the river sport elegant charm in their layout and architecture, with pertly maintained yards and kids zipping around on bicycles.  Haven't been much on the Wal-Mart side of the highway, but I get the sense it turns more deserty and ranch housey and gun racky in the back of pickup trucky.  Ish.

So Wednesday I took the boys to the Lava River Cave just south of town about 30 minutes.  It's this very cool pipeline cave originally carved or formed by lava millions of years ago.  We took our flashlights and hiked the mile or so to the very end, where you have to crawl on hands and knees the last 60 yards or so.  No photos except this one at the entrance to the cave:

Into the abyss!

In the afternoon we visited the Bend farmers market and bought some of the most luscious blackberries I've ever had.  In a "welcome to Oregon" moment, there was a real hippy looking family there with a naked three year old boy, and they bought some fruit and sat right in the middle of the grass smack in the center of the market and had their picnic.  No one seemed to care much.

Thursday was a busy day.  We left early to go to Lake Paulina for a six mile hike around the lake.

The Dudleys and our hosts, including pup Angus, at the trailhead.

Besides the amazing scenery, the lake offered two special treats.  Below are a select few photos from the hike.  I couldn't put too many of them here because I was always the last hiker, which meant most of my photos of my companions were from the rear, which I have learned in 20 years of marriage does not make for a good suite of photos of your wife to post to a public forum.

The trail mostly followed the edge of the lake in single file.  We only encountered a couple of other small groups all day long.

At some points the lake reminded me of Tahoe; at others, it had more of a high desert look.  But it was beautiful everywhere.

One of the special treats along this hike is the obsidian flow.  The boys scrambled up it looking for the purest samples.

Some obsidian rocks Ethan liked.

After scrambling  back down the obsidian flow, we hiked on.  Our intrepid guide and hostess, Tiffany (yes, the same Tiffany we stayed with on our trip to England), led the way to "the beach."

Alpine lake marshy meadowish place, with squishy footing and a marshy smell.

Ethan in one of the hot springs dugouts, with Angus splashing in the lake behind.

The other big treat along the hike was an area of hot springs at the northern end of the lake.  It's not quite three miles from the campground to the hot springs.  The boys sat and had a hot soak before lunch, and Ethan especially enjoyed the warm water.  The "beach" comprised an impressive collection of pebbles without a single grain of sand, so some mile splashing was accompanied by a chorus of "ow! ow! ow!" when Sam tried to wade into the lake itself.

Angus and Ethan, again.

One other great thing about stopping for lunch here was seeing a bald eagle soar over.  Unfortunately, it flew past before I could really understand what I was seeing, and it lit in the top of a tree and never took off again until after we left.  If this isn't a bald eagle, I hope someone will tell me.  I'd never seen one before as far as I know, so this was a cool sight.

The eagle from far away, at the top of the dead tree.

Zoomed in crop of the same photo.

No, this isn't a bird's eye view from the eagle's perch.  From the beach, the trail pitched pretty much straight up a big hill, then along the side of the hill around the rest of the lake.  The views were astounding, and even after six miles of hiking this I was not at all tired of the scenery.

That night the ladies went into town for dinner and a free outdoor concert while the boys and I stayed back at the house.  The boys watched the movie Spaceballs, but I got online and worked--our big software installation of the year was Thursday night, and as with all such endeavors it was not without hiccups.  In the end, it succeeded which allowed me to enjoy our Friday activities with less sense of stress.

Friday I worked some more with a phone meeting an lunch with a local colleague, then in the afternoon I joined the families for some lazy tubing in Tumalo State Park.  Beautiful day, nice lazy river, not too crowded.  And the water wasn't as cold as you might expect.
Sam especially enjoyed the tubing.  So much so that he fell out of his tube at least twice.

On Saturday, we visited Chandy and had a nice relaxing day of it with a walk in her neighborhood and another along the river walk near the Old Mill shops around twilight.

View from a bridge looking downriver, too dark for my blackberry camera.

Today, Maria and Ethan will visit with Chandy and her family some more, but Sam and I will join Tiffany and her son Henry for a rock climbing adventure.  Sam has his climbing merit badge, and Tiffany and Henry have climbed multiple times in spots around the world.  I'm the novice in the group.  So maybe the next installment will include some photos of me hanging cheerily from ropes wrapped comically around various appendages.  Stay tuned.  Then unfortunately tomorrow we have to head home to real life once more.